Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Diverse grouping for collaborative conversations

The Common Core Standards states that students need to express their ideas, collaborate, and build on each others' ideas in diverse groups.  A lot of people think that diverse groups means just don't seat students with their friends, but there's a lot more to it than that.  A teacher has to be very strategic when devising these diverse groupings.   The categories could be endless.  For example there are gender, race, social, language, and academic categories.  There is also friendships, enemies, chatterboxes, and  introverts.   There are also students that fall into the Gifted or Special Education category.   And I'm sure there are categories that I'm forgetting that you're thinking of right now when you review your classroom.

During the second of week of school, every year after I somewhat get an idea of who my students are, I arrange my students' seats in pods of four for easy collaboration.   I stratagize over these grouping the night before.   I write all students' names on index cards and then list any relevant information about them that could help me break the into diverse groups.   I then lay them out on my bed in pods of four, just like my class would appear in the morning  I arrange and study them.  I really analyze them to make sure they are the perfect fit because once I put the students in these pods, there should be no seat switching.   It is ideal for the students to remain i these teams because I am going to be doing a lot of team building, and if someone gets moved, someone gets left out.  For collaboration in diverse groupings to function, the students need to feel safe in their teams.  For that reason I do fun team building get to know you activities and team empowerment assignments.   It is very detrimental to a team and the individual student, if she gets moved after she has been placed.   And these teams must last for 6-8 weeks.

Well, tonight I just arranged my second group of index cards for the year.  We made it through the first 6-8 weeks of school.  The groupings I created the second week were interesting to say the least.  They were definitely a good mix of diverse students.   I could tell that most of the students had not been grouped like that before.  When a student is forced to sit in a close group and collaborate and solve problems, if they have any issues I guarantee they will come out.   We had a few heavy arguments between members, and at times the group would become dysfunctional.   Most teachers may think that the solution would be to move the students, but not me.  The more problems that arise, the more team building activities I propose.   One group really couldn't stand each other and had their mother talk with me and demand that they be moved.  Another mother came in for the same reason because their child was unhappy in her placement also.  But after I explained to the parents the purpose of diverse groups and team building and how it creates socialization with the end result of the kind of career skills  everyone dreams about, they said they would give it a chance.  And you know what?  After a week of intense icebreakers and get to know you activities, all students involved did not want to move away from their teams.

Now I plan for the great experiment again.  I have all my cards planned out, and all students divvied out in diverse, strategically grouped pods of four.   When the students enter the classroom Monday, they'll be in for a surprise when they say goodbye to their old table mates and hello to the new ones.  I'll let you know how this group socializes and if my  hopes of them learning character skills that will last a lifetime is plausible.

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